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In a separate interview, Forced Exposure owner Jimmy Johnson does admit that the Ghetto Blasterproject caused some friction between Seven and himself. He adds that he's definitely on Seven's side when it comes to PBO. "Edgar released a single on Skam and it didn't do nearly as well as his Chocolate Industries stuff," says Johnson, an unfair comparison considering that the enigmatic Manchester label best known for launching the atmospheric electronic duo Boards of Canada's career usually sticks to small pressings of limited-edition vinyl. Still he readily asserts that PBO has "an international reputation" that "wouldn't have been possible without Chocolate Industries."
In a way, PBO's story is an unusual but welcome one. Independent record companies don't get the same financial scrutiny as their major-label counterparts, whose inner workings, scrupulous and otherwise, are carefully detailed in the pages of Billboardand Rolling Stonemagazines.
But that doesn't mean indies are preternaturally fair and upstanding businesses. Rumors abound in the underground hip-hop scene of rap groups being systematically ripped off by record labels. Most fans never hear these stories because the money in question is minuscule compared with the millions a major label can squeeze out of its artists through creative bookkeeping. Too often, musicians struggle to make ends meet with a patchwork of small royalty checks and live performances. For an impoverished artist, a $3000 check is the difference between paying the rent and couch-surfing at a friend's house.
Seven is not a crook. According to the contracts and invoices sent to Basshead, his business relationship with his onetime friend was a legally sound if emotionally dysfunctional one. But a few troubling questions remain. If PBO was taking so long to finish Ghetto Blaster, why did Seven contribute to the delay by goading him into recording more tracks with underground rap stars? Certainly, the "360" recordings were a win-win situation for everybody, garnering Chocolate Industries and PBO the attention of the backpackers and college radio jocks fueling the underground hip-hop scene, a sizable and growing market that had previously eluded them.
More problematic is what happened after PBO left Chicago with the Ghetto Blastermasters in April of last year.After he demanded $10,000 in "mechanicals," Seven verbally agreed to pay $7500 in exchange for the masters. He drafted a settlement agreement with his lawyer and sent it to PBO; PBO signed it and sent it back to Seven along with the masters. But Seven never signed the agreement, and now says he duped PBO "in order to get the masters to the album."
Last month Chocolate Industries finally released Ghetto Blasterto little public fanfare. For sure, it's a worthy sophomore effort,a rougher, loop-based transition from Dirty Dozen's keyboard compositions. But Chocolate Industries, understandably stung by PBO's "shit talking," isn't doing much to promote it beyond a handful of ads in magazines like Viceand Elemental. After all that's happened, the album represents a dark point in the label's history. "Honestly, I just want to move on with my life," says Seven.
PBO seems determined to move on, too, and is currently working on another album. But he isn't aware of Seven's subterfuge until Basshead points it out to him during a phone interview. "Oh, I've got a version of the settlement with his signature on it," he retorts dismissively.
Then, a day later, PBO calls back, panic-stricken. "Seven is a shady motherfucker," he says, clearly distressed at the realization that he has been played "like a sucker." For the next several minutes he curses Seven's name, sounding erratic, depressed, and completely disillusioned by the record industry.
Why is PBO letting Seven get to him? Why doesn't he just work with another label? "Music is a sacred thing," he announces in a pained voice. "But to go through this stress, this shit ... I'd rather flip burgers."